Vandals who have set fire to grass and hedges on land close to residential areas in Derry over the weekend have been accused of putting lives at risk by diverting the services of local firefighters.
The comments were made by Derry MLA Mark H Durkan after a second night of fires in the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank areas on Friday evening. A fire was also started in the Whitehouse Road area shortly after 9pm on Friday and a number of grass verges and hedges were set on fire in the Southway area of Creggan just after 6pm the same day.
The Foyle MLA said the potential for tragedy was very real if members of the Fire and Rescue service continue to be called out as a result of deliberate actions:
He said: “Over the past few evenings there have been several fires on the wasteground between the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank estates.
This land has been earmarked for a new community facility which will benefit everyone in the area but in the meantime these fires have resulted in disruption and discomfort for residents and the destruction of wildlife.
“Furthermore, while the fire brigade having to call out to extinguish the fires has a financial cost to the public purse, the real cost could be immeasurable if they were unable to reach a life-threatening situation in time due to resources being tied up here dealing with mindless vandalism.”
The SDLP MLA added: “I would ask those responsible for the fires to have a long, hard look at themselves and to wise up before their actions have very serious consequences. Furthermore, I would encourage parents and schools to remind young people of the dangers of fire and irresponsible behaviour as we hopefully come into the warmer weather.”
In a similar incident in Southway, fires were lit just yards from local homes.
Sinn Fein Councillor for the area, Colly Kelly said: “This is a vast area and within yards of local homes. Had this fire taken hold we could have had a very serious situation on our hands. I called the Fire Brigade and they were on the scene within minutes and I would like to praise the Fire Service for their efforts. There have been a number of similar incidents across the city in the past week.
“I would urge parents to tell their children of the dangers of starting such fires. Apart from damaging our countryside, it is also diverting valuable resources from the Fire Service. Lives could be at risk as these types of fires tend to travel quickly disorientating people with their huge smoke plumes, trapping people and putting their lives in danger,” Colr. Kelly added.
Residents in a number of estates took to social networking sites over the weekend to express their disgust at the vandalism, with one claiming:
“Someone will get hurt badly if it continues. There is no thought of the risks to the elderly, the sick, the young or themselves.”
Another resident added: “My sister and her two year old daughter’s back garden faces onto the fields and the smoke was unreal today, the fire was right behind their home, it was terrible. Someone needs to sort this out.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said a statement on the fires would be released on Monday.